Poissy is a town west of Paris, only 20 minutes by train from the capital but with many worthwhile sights of its own.
Way back it was a royal city, and the birthplace of Kings Louis IX and Philippe III. The Colloquy of Poissy was a huge event that happened here in 1561, an unsuccessful meeting to settle differences between the Huguenots and the Catholics.
Now the town is known for manufacturing, with factories for Peugeot-Citroën and Siemens sequestered in the “Technoparc”. There’s a still a distinct aristocratic presence around Poissy, with royal and noble properties a few minutes away in Chambourcy, Saint-Germain-en-Laye and Maisons-Laffitte.
Lets explore the best things to do in Poissy:
1. Villa Savoye
You can’t overstate the impact that this mansion had on modernist architecture.
The Villa Savoye was built at the turn of the 1930s, designed by Le Corbusier and Pierre Jeanneret as a rural getaway for a wealthy Parisian couple.
It is now a World Heritage site and cherished by architects as it gracefully encapsulates Le Corbusier’s “Five Points”, his principles of international modernism.
It was an early structure to be built with cars in mind, which is why it is raised on piles, while each side of the building was designed with the position of the sun in mind.
You can walk up the shallow ramp to a rooftop solarium.
2. Collégiale Notre-Dame
Poissy’s stunning church dates to the 12th century and had chapels added in the 1400s.
But by the 1800s the building was in disrepair, and the man hired for the renovation was none other than Viollet-le-Duc.
This master restorer will always be known for his work on the fairytale Château de Pierrefonds and the romantic city walls at Carcassonne.
The building has a peculiar silhouette for its pair of Romanesque octagonal bell-towers and a tangle of flying buttresses, pinnacles and radiating chapels all from different stages in its past.
In the interior make time to see the 14th-century sculpted high altar, a 16th-century limestone group sculpture depicting the Entombment and the many historic funeral slabs that have been sealed in the west wall.
3. Musée du Jouet
At the time of writing this museum is closed for refurbishment, but will reopen in 2018. The venue is the magnificent fortified gatehouse of the 14th-century Saint-Louis Royal Priory.
It holds a nostalgic and educational trove of toys and games dating to the century between 1850 and 1950. There are 600 items in all, with big assortments of teddy bears, electric trains, toy soldiers and cars.
There’s an entire room for dolls, ranging from antique porcelain models to Barbies.
But maybe best of all are the old-time optical illusions, like the magic lantern that springs to life when you enter a dark room.
4. Parc Meissonier
This park is named for Ernest Meissonier, a 19th-century painter and sculptor who won fame for his historical depictions of Napoleon.
Meissonier became mayor of Poissy in the 1870s and lived in a mansion right next to this heavenly 10-hectare English garden.
It was adapted from the grounds of a Benedictine abbey and finally opened to the public in 1952. A statue of Meissonier, donated in 1980 by the Louvre, welcomes you at the entrance.
And there’s a rose garden, flower beds, a long central pond and a variety of tree species, like the tall bald cypresses by the water.
5. Ancien Pont de Poissy
Make the eerie ruins of this bridge the destination for a quiet walk by the Seine.
The Ancien Pont de Poissy goes back to the 1200s and was built at a time when the Seine was wider and the banks were lower.
It had 37 arches and four mills, and was fortified in the 1600s with gatehouses at each end.
The structure was destroyed by Allied bombing in the war, and only three arches on each bank remain.
There are also four stranded piers on the Poissy side.
While pondering the ruins it might give you a frisson to know that you’re at the exact spot where artists like Monet, Turner, Pissarro and Meissonier painted the bridge in the 19th century.
6. Distillerie du Noyau de Poissy
Opening in partnership with Poissy’s tourist office is the last artisanal distillery in the Île-de-France region.
This is on Rue du General de Gaulle in the middle of the town, crafting a liqueur that goes back at least to the 1600s.
Noyau de Poissy is distilled from apricot kernels in the same manner as a fortified wine, and then infused with herbs.
There are two types to try: Gobelet d’Argent, which is 25% alcohol and a bit like Armagnac, and Sceau de Saint-Louis, which at 40% is robust stuff with hints of almond and orange blossom.
A dignified octagonal building in the centre of Poissy, the Octroi now houses the town’s tourist office.
It’s a peculiar Neoclassical structure that dates to 1830 and now stands as a souvenir to the local economy at that time.
This was based heavily on the market, and the Octroi was where the duties on livestock were collected by the market’s administrative staff.
If you get up close you can make out a relief by the sculptor Théophile Caudron celebrating Poissy’s old rural trades like fishing, arable farming and rearing livestock.
8. Désert de Retz
A couple of minutes to the south in Chambourcy is a singular landscape garden commissioned in the 1700s by the aristocrat François Racine de Monville.
In this undulating English garden the architect Étienne-Louis Boullée built 20 follies inspired by antiquity.
Ten of these remain today, scattered across 40 wonderful hectares of lawns and groves.
The most famous is the Colonne Brisée, a summer house intended to look like a huge broken column from a classical temple.
There’s also an icehouse built like a pyramid, a Chinese pavilion, a Palladian temple to Pan and several more beautiful little monuments to discover inside the park.
9. Musée Départemental Maurice-Denis
The influential post-Impressionist lived in this 17th-century hospital building from 1914 until he passed away in 1943. Earlier, Denis had helped found Les Nabis a group of avant-garde Post-Impressionist artists at the turn of the century.
Now a museum, this delightful house has a host of paintings by Denis and contemporaries like Paul Sérusier, Toulouse-Lautrec, Gauguin, Georges Lacombe, Paul Ranson and Emile Bernard.
There’s some extra magic at the old hospital’s chapel, which was restored and decorated by Denis between 1915 and 1928.
10. Musée d’Archéologie Nationale
With a very regal home in the Château de Saint-Germain-en-Laye, this museum has spellbinding artefacts from prehistory to the dawn of the middle ages.
The location is stunning, at a residence for many kings, but adored most by Francis I who married Claude of France here in 1514. And as for the collections, they will amaze casual tourists and historians alike.
Make sure you see the Venus of Brassempouy, dating back 25,000 years and one of the oldest depictions of a human ever found.
But this is one of many awesome finds like the 3,000-year-old Cretan helmets and Pre-Roman bronze breastplates.
There’s also gold from Gaul and an overwhelming amount of Gallo-Roman jewellery, sculpture and goldwork like the sensational Rethel Treasure.
11. Chapelle Saint-Louis
If you know Paris well you may have visited the Chapelle Royale by the Conciergerie on Île de la Cité.
Well the chapel in the grounds of Château de Saint-Germain-en-Laye was in fact the precursor to that building, constructed ten years earlier in 1238. Both were built during the reign of Louis IX and were designed by the king’s favourite architect Pierre de Montreuil.
One of the innovative things about the chapel is the absence of internal support as the vaults are held up by columns along the walls.
This allowed even more light to fill the building.
12. Grande Terrasse de Saint Germain-en-Laye
In the southeast nook of the Château de Saint-Germain-en-Laye’s grounds is a stunning vestige from the Château Neuf.
This was the newer sister building, built in the reign of Henri II, remodelled under Louis XIV, but demolished in the 18th century.
What is left is a terrace created by André Le Nôtre for Louis XIV in the 17th century.
It’s a 2.4-kilometre long esplanade on the edge of plateau above the Seine.
The views to the east will stop you in your tracks, taking in the modern skyline of La Défense in the foreground and Paris behind.
13. Forêt de Saint-Germain-en-Laye
This 3,500-hectare expanse of oak and beech forest begins right next to Poissy.
There’s no shortage of walking and cycling trails close by in this old royal hunting forest.
But even better is the Fête des Loges, the third oldest fair in France, going back to 1652. It is held on the Esplanade des Loges from the end of June to the middle of August, and pulls in millions of Parisians every year for its multitude of fairground rides and amusements.
In Poissy you’ll be walking distance away and can go on a culinary odyssey at the Allée des Cuisines, where dozens of world cuisines are represented.
14. Château de Maisons
A 15-minute drive through the forest will take you to another magnificent property.
Château de Maisons was conceived by the 17th-century architect François Mansart in the middle of the 17th century.
When the palace was completed it was a big leap forward for French architecture, and stands as one of the country’s first Baroque buildings.
It’s the only one of Mansart’s Châteaux still standing, and was the home of René de Longueil, the big-spending Superintendent of Finance under Louis XIV. Wander the marvellous gardens and go in to see the 18th-century interiors.
There are activities for kids too, such as dressing up in period garb.
As you can tell, there’s a lot to do around Poissy, but there’s no substitute for Paris, which is less than half an hour on the RER A and Trainsilien rail lines.
These are much quicker than driving into the capital, and once you reach Paris Saint-Lazare station a world of culture, cuisine and nightlife will be at your fingertips.
Maybe you want to see the tourist-friendly sights like the Arc de Triomphe, Notre-Dame and Eiffel Tower.
Or maybe you have specific interest that you want to explore, like Impressionist Art at the Musée d’Orsay or the Musée Marmottan Monet.
You might be heading to the city to see a specific band or artist, or want to check out an obscure part of the city you’ve never seen before, like up-and-coming Montreuil or the Quartier Chinois.